Q: I’ve been using antibacterial soap to prevent the spread of germs around my house. But now I’m hearing these soaps may actually increase the risk of infection. What gives? Are they safe or not?
––Robert A., Burlington, VT
A: In a word, no. Antibacterial products are absolutely not safe, and are potentially quite dangerous.
Here’s why. As we age, one of the greatest risks we face is developing an infection. An infection, especially if it lingers, can unleash a variety of life-threatening complications. Antibacterial products may actually increase your risk of getting an infection because they encourage the growth of resistance bacteria. Resistance bacteria are very hard to kill, and if you become infected with them, your illness may be harder to treat.
How is this possible? Well, it appears the main culprit is usually a chemical called triclosan, which is found in antibacterial soaps, toothÂpaste, mouth wash, deodorants, first-aid creams, kitchenware, clothes, and toys. For a complete list by brand, go to www.beyondpesticides.org.
Triclosan kills bacteria—at first. But research has shown that prominent bacteria such as e.coli, salmonella, shigella and other intestinal bacteria become resistant to it pretty quickly. These bacteria learn to use an internal pump to expel the triclosan when they come into contact with it. Bacteria has an instinct for survival—it was around before us, and it will be here long after we’re gone.
But the bad news about triclosan doesn’t end there. It is what we call an endocrine disruptor, and may interfere with normal functioning of your thyroid hormone and estrogen. It’s associated with allergies and can become contaminated with dioxin, a known carcinogen. This is particularly troublesome, because triclosan stores itself in fat. That’s right…
This deadly chemical actually accumulates in your body!
The FDA and EPA are responsible for regulating this chemical—and, frankly, they’ve done almost nothing to inform the public of its risks. Instead, they’ve stood by while the manufacturers of products containing triclosan continue to tout its germ-killing ability and prey on the ignorance of the germophobic public.
The marketing for triclosan products has been so effective that some people are afraid to wash their hands—or anything else for that matter—without an antibacterial product. Let me put your fear to rest—study after study (after study) has shown these products are no more effective than regular, old-fashioned soap and water.
Use warm water to lather your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds and then rinse for another 15 seconds. Then take a clean towel to dry your hands and sweep any remaining bacteria off your skin. If you need to use a hand sanitizer, make it one with alcohol, which flat out kills microbes without helping them develop resistance.
Dr. Alan Inglis
Dr. Inglis works closely with his patients to help them take charge of their health and well-being without resorting to expensive drugs and dangerous surgeries.
He is currently the director of Integrated Health Solutions, and is on the board of NOAH - a wellness center in Great Barrington, MA.